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Sporting KC advances past the San Jose Earthquakes after penalty kicks

Sporting KC host and win the wild card game to advance to take on St. Louis City on Sunday in the next playoff round.



Daniel Salloi and Tim Melia celebrate the PK shootout win! | Credit: Thad Bell

Sporting Kansas City and the San Jose Clash Earthquakes met in the Western Conference Wild Card round on a wet Wednesday night. After raining all day, the clouds subsided and the eighth and ninth seeds battled for the right to face St. Louis city in the next round.

Sporting KC, as the hosts, fielded the same starting XI that trounced Minnesota United on Decision Day. A first choice XI was led by Johnny F’ing Russell, Alan Pulido, and Daniel Salloi in the attack with Erik Thommy, Remi Walter, and Nemanja Radoja working as the midfield engine. The backline was anchored by Jake Davis, Dany Rosero, Andreu Fontas, and Logan Ndenbe with Tim Melia between the posts. The visiting Earthquakes made three changes, including the heavily hyped Cade Cowell starting on the bench.

Both team were headed in opposite trajectories to conclude the season, with Sporting averaging 1.7 points per game in the final seven games of the season, the second best finish in the west. Meanwhile, the Quakes finished the final seven games with 1.1 points per game, the second worst mark of the Western Conference playoff teams.


Sporting started with the ball and earned an early chance with a Daniel Salloi shot in the second minute that went just wide left of the post. In the third minute, Alan Pulido received a clever ball from Erik Thommy near the top of the box. His touch carried him into a dangerous position and he rifled a shot that deflected off of a San Jose defender and went just wide of the goal for a Sporting KC corner. Sporting continued to dominate possession over the first eight minutes of the match, holding a 83-17% advantage. In the 11th minute, Alan Pulido and Johnny Russell combined on a 1-2 passing sequence into the box. Johnny then found Jake Davis who laid it off back to Russell whose shot was pushed up and over the bar by the San Jose keeper, Daniel. The ensuing cross was not cleared well by San Jose and led to Sporting pressing for the opening goal with more dangerous possession. Ultimately, their clever play was unable to lead to a shot.

As the teams grew into the game, Johnny Russell found an inch of space at the top of the box in the 19th minute and ripped a curler with his left foot at the top corner of the goal. To the dismay of the fans in the South Stand, the shot flew just high and out for a San Jose goal kick. San Jose evened the possession a bit over the next five minutes or so before Sporting won possession and pressed forward in the attack again. Daniel Salloi earned a couple of fouls before Johnny Russell eventually found the ball in the box and forced San Jose to play it out for a corner. The home team surged forward again in the 30th minute with Remi Walter running a 3 v. 2 breakaway. His cross couldn’t find a teammate, but was eventually recycled to Jake Davis. Davis’ ensuing cross found the feet of Daniel Salloi just outside of the six yard box but he couldn’t control the ball and it rolled out for a goal kick.

San Jose’s first chance of the half came in the 33rd minute when a ball was curled in to Melia’s back post. The cross was unable to find any Quakes and went out for a goal kick.

As the first half neared its conclusion, the game began to get chippy with San Jose committing two fouls in quick succession. The hosts continued to press with wave after wave of attacking play, but settling for crosses or taking one too many touches. The half ended with no added time.


Sporting KC dominated the possession battle 64-36. They outshot San Jose 7-0 but only put one shot on goal. The hosts nearly doubled San Jose in passes 387-208 and with passing accuracy 92.5% to 87%. The corner kick advantage also favored Sporting KC 6-0. San Jose committed 5 fouls to 0 for SKC.

Despite the statistical domination, Sporting Kansas City only registered 0.2 xG in the first half while holding San Jose to 0. Sporting lacked touches in the middle part of the pitch at the top of the box, commonly referred to as zone 14. Instead, they often settled for wide attacking play, hoping to cut in with Salloi, Thommy, and Russell, or lobbing crosses into the box.


Sporting Kansas City started the half the way they began the first, racing down the pitch where Daniel Salloi cut back a cross for Alan Pulido. Pulido’s shot was deflected out of bounds for a corner kick. The ensuing corner by Salloi found an Earthquake and was headed out for a throw in, with the danger mitigated. In the 51st minute, Logan Ndenbe cut diagonally across the left side of the pitch and rocketed a shot at the San Jose net that was turned over the crossbar by the keeper. Daniel Salloi fired the ensuing corner kick to the far post and it eventually went out for a slowly taken goal kick.

The first booking of the night came in the 55th minute after Matthew Hoppe hacked down Jake Davis from behind during an attacking run down the right side of the pitch. This came immediately after the referee, Alan Chapman, played advantage for Johnny Russell being hacked down about fifteen feet away.

In an effort to change the momentum, Luchi Gonzalez substituted Cade Cowell in for Matthew Hoppe in the 57th minute. Nemanja Radoja found Johnny Russell with an inch perfect switch where Russell left his defender in the dust and ripped a shot at the goal. Continuing the theme of the night, the shot sailed high and harmlessly out of bounds for a goal kick.

Andreu Fontas earned a yellow card in the 59th minute for clearing out Jackson Yueill in the midfield. Despite this being Sporting’s first foul of the evening, the Spaniard was unable to stay out of the book. San Jose finally attempted a shot in the ensuing run of play when Cristian Espinoza fired a shot into the side netting.

San Jose made no effort to speed the game up, with each restart taking the an excruciating amount of time. San Jose keeper, Daniel, earned the ire of the Cauldron faithful who rained down boos and taunts on him each time he touched the ball.

San Jose earned their first corner of the match in the 62nd minute, taking it short and eventually earning a sequel after the ball deflected off of Alan Pulido. Sporting was able to clear their lines and force a reset but remained under siege as the clock ticked away in the final 30 minutes of play.

San Jose’s best chance of the match came in the 67th minute when Cade Cowell drove hard across the box and fired a shot that was sure to test Tim Melia. Andreu Fontas stuck a leg out and was able to deflect the ball out for a corner kick. Espinoza’s corner was cleared but not far enough to escape danger. After denying San Jose any corner kicks in the first half, they earned four by the 70th minute.

In the 68th minute, Peter Vermes made his first chess move of the match, substituting Gadi Kinda for Remi Walter.  After trading a bit of dangerous possession, Johnny Russell earned a free kick just outside the box and to the right of the D. Russell took the spot kick and his shot sailed high and wide of the net for another slowly taken goal kick.

Erik Thommy, in an attempt to recreate his goal of the year, tried a “F it, I’ll do it myself” moment in the 76th minute. He received the ball on the right side of the box and cut through three defenders before taking a shot that lacked the speed and placement to really challenge the San Jose keeper.

In the 77th minute, San Jose made a double switch, removing their striker, Jeremy Ebobisse, for Jack Skahan and replacing Paul Marie with defender, Miguel Trauco. Shortly after the switch, Johnny Russell earned another free kick right at the top of the box when he got absolutely cleared out by Carlos Gruezo. Russell’s ensuing free kick rang off the post and the score remained level at 0-0.

In the 80th minute, substitute Jack Skahan earned a yellow card for a very late challenge on Logan Ndenbe. In the 84th minute, Cristian Espinoza tested Tim Melia again with another shot from outside the box. Sporting’s keeper dove to his right and easily saved the shot.

San Jose made their final substitutions in the 85th minute, replacing Jamiro Monteiro with Nike Tsakiris and Carlos Gruezo with Judson.

San Jose continued to press forward, with the late game momentum much more in their favor than the first half. Judson, earned his yellow card in the 87th minute, by needlessly yanking Johnny to the ground.

Sporting Kansas City made their second substitution of the match in the 88th minute bringing in club legend, Roger Espinoza, for Nemanja Radoja. With the game entering it’s final minute, Sporting KC probed forward hoping to avoid penalty kicks. Gadi Kinda’s cutback pass found Daniel Salloi who fired a shot in the box that was blocked by Jonathan Mensah. After multiple yellow cards, seven substitutions, and an unreasonable amount of stalling and the dark arts from San Jose, the fourth official indicated that there would be five minutes of stoppage time before the teams went to penalty kicks. San Jose continued to stall and delay by tossing the ball into the crowd to retrieve a new ball during a drop ball, to the extreme irritation of the home fans. Nonetheless, Alan Chapman refused to card or punish the San Jose keeper for his antics.

With about one minute left in stoppage time, Roger Espinoza treated the home fans to a vintage Espinoza shot, launching the ball up towards the scoreboard above the Cauldron. Chapman blew the whistle with the teams level at 0-0 and the match headed to penalty kicks to decide the winner.


Regular time ended with Sporting KC winning the possession battle 59-41.

Sporting KC outshot San Jose 18-5 with 4 on target to 0 for San Jose (per MLS’ website.  This seemed incorrect based on my view of the game).

Sporting won more corners, duels, and out-passed San Jose.

The Earthquakes committed 12 fouls, earning three yellows while Sporting KC committed three fouls and earned one yellow, giving some credence to Daniel Salloi, who had previously called San Jose a dirty team.


As penalty kicks started at the Cauldron end, Johnny Russell stepped up first.

The Scotsman took a run up and launched his kick into the back of the net before giving the San Jose keeper a bit of trash talk.

Cristian Espinoza then stepped up for the visitors to challenge the PK GOAT, Tim Melia. Espinoza’s shot was hard and to Melia’s left but the future Sporting Legend continued to prove why he’s the GOAT and he saved the kick.  At the end of the first round, Sporting led 1-0.

Alan Pulido stepped up next for the home team. He took a short run up and tried to get cute. As Daniel dove to his right, Pulido gently passed the ball at the net. The lack of pace allowed San Jose’s keeper to recover and he was able to kick save the shot.

Jackson Yueill stepped up for San Jose in an effort to level things. His ensuing kick, straight from the Eddie Johnson school of pens, was launched high into the Cauldron. Sporting Kansas City still led 1-0.

Erik Thommy stepped up for the home team and after a hesitation run up, slotted his shot into the bottom corner of the net.

With a two goal advantage, Jack Skahan stepped up and buried his shot with pace past the outstretched arms of Melia, who guessed the right way. Through three rounds, Sporting held a 2-1 advantage.

Gadi Kinda was the next in line for Sporting KC. He sent the keeper the wrong way and blasted his shot into the back corner of the net.

Carlos Akapo stepped up for San Jose, needing to score to keep the match going. He took a short run and placed his shot in the corner, leaving Melia wrong footed and unable to keep the ball out.  Through four rounds, Sporting held a 3-2 advantage.

Homegrown, Daniel Salloi, stepped up for the fifth kick for Sporting KC. DS20, aka the Hungarian Assassin, put his shot down the middle, top bin to send Sporting Kansas City through to the next round of the playoffs. Sporting won 4-2.

Sporting KC will travel to St. Louis to face their rivals on Sunday night in the first of a potential three game series.

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